The Runnymede Poultry Colony

Driving through the Valley using the Uber navigation app, I’ve noticed something called the Runnymede Poultry Colony popping up in the street grid of Reseda….in the middle of a subdivision.

Places that haven’t existed for decades, places with evocative names like Wingfoot, Broadmoor, Mission Acres, Wahoo…can be found on old maps, particularly those of the Pacific Electric streetcar lines.  Intriguingly, Google Maps utilizes a historical overlay, so when you zoom in, these unfamiliar names pop up in familiar places.  The White Favela, for example, sits atop a forgotten neighborhood called “Raymer”.  The navigation apps, including Uber, ride atop the Google platform and that brings us to the utopian community of Runnymede.

“Intensive little farms”, in the phrasing of its founder Charles Weeks, “bringing peace of mind, health of body and an abundant living to thousands bound in slavery by wage-earning and too much business.” It was located in the Winnetka neighborhood, not Reseda, named for the city in Illinois from which Weeks originated.

For $1500 in 1925,  pilgrims got a modest bungalow set back from the road on a deep narrow lot,  a poultry shed with 2000 hens, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, a bee box and a grape arbor. You’d leave the eggs by the road for the morning pickup. You’d wash your own clothes and make your own ice cream.  You’d do it all on one acre, as a family,  living self-sufficiently in the city of Los Angeles.  In case you thought you were still living somewhere in Iowa,  you could ride the Red Car down Sherman Way and over the hill into town and watch Rudolph Valentino.  But you didn’t do that because you were pious.  You also had 2000 chickens to attend to, and kids running around in burlap underwear.  You were keeping Gomorrah well-omletted.

It wasn’t a collective farm, exactly, because you owned your own land, but there was a trade association, a community center for weekly functions and a beach house in Santa Monica the 500 Runnymede families could avail for picnicking in the summer.

If the Valley had developed along the one-acre per family Weeks model, there could have been potentially 150,000 such farm/orchard/home businesses today.  Assuming the necessity of middle children (several, ideally) we would have a population under a million, but big enough to sustain a city, with trolley lines and bike paths everywhere.  Counterfactually speaking, this was possible.

But it foundered, as did so many things, during the Depression. Falling egg prices,  the inability to make loan payments. Weeks himself went bankrupt self-financing loans to the families.  By 1934 it was over.

Instead, the Valley developed as the owners of the land wished it to. Remarkably, there remains to this day intact solitary lots … stubborn holdouts against the street grid,  crazy spinster aunts clinging to life after all the relatives have passed on.

You can see how much they’ve done with the place. That’s the problem with cheap land. Seldom do we make good use of it.

Which reminded me of the house we almost bought before we came to Van Nuys.  This one right here. It wasn’t part of the Colony, but the lot was as long as a football field. The structure was worthless.. teardown condition, but oh, the two week fever dream I had!   Not that I had any experience in this regard, my rather vague, very rudimentary, very what the hell anyone can do this plan was to grow organic spices and produce specifically for local restaurants.  I would be Mr. Local Source. The land would pay for the house. Gentleman Farmer, me. Purveyor to the stars of cuisine.

Just like this mini-farm tucked behind The French Laundry, in Napa.  When you dine there, you’re grazing right off the yard.

One of the peculiarities of our present Downton Abbey on the Pacific is working class people double bunking in apartments, fattening up on caloric take-out, while the gentry drop half a year’s salary on authentic peasant food grown on the most expensive ground in California.

As it happened, the house with the ginormous lot was already in escrow, sparing me the inevitable folly of a Branch Davidian-like standoff with City officials over unpermitted agricultural output.

I would have made my bride a widow defending the soil like an Ulsterman.  I would not have lived to hear the wise counsel of my friend Johnny: we’re only leasing it from God. The crust of the earth can shake us off like fleas at any moment.

Way, Way East of Pasadena

What do you do if you want to have a fancy wedding in Los Angeles on a teacher’s salary?

You book an outdoor venue in Temecula on a Sunday in August and ask your friends to drive out and sit under umbrellas in triple-digit heat, which we were only too happy to do! All of us! No bother at all!

Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. UpintheValley had their first tiff at a gas station in Rancho Cucamonga on the way home from Vegas.  Since then the world East of Pasadena has remained terra incognita for us, even after two decades as Angelenos.  We’re not snobs. Except for bickering, we just never had reason to get out of the car.

There is a saying in L.A.:  the car is king. This is not correct.  In L.A. the car is the preferred mode of transportation.   The street grid overlays a network of former trolley lines which in turn mimic earlier horse trails which, by necessity, hewed to canyons and watersheds.  The underlying topography and the transportation backbone correspond to the historical evolution of the city.  The freeways were only cut in later.

Here in the outer, outer ring of suburbs, the freeway is its own world entire.

Massive three-level interchanges, which make the 405/101 cloverleaf in Sherman Oaks look like a piker, sprout from a tree-less scrubland, mocking the topography. One is lifted a hundred feet in the air then sluiced into a fresh arterial without any understanding of where one is, or why this great sorting of vehicles is taking place at this particular location since wherever you are there is no here.   You’re flying over a waterless arroyo and the bleached bones of luckless prospectors.

The towns, off-ramps to subdivisions really, adhere to the freeway for life support.  They all contain the following: a business park/distribution hub called The Pointe (with an E), an auto mall, an entertainment complex called The Crossroads, or The Shops At….

…and above all, gated communities with fanciful names like…Terramor.

Terramor evokes something reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, a place very green, very watery, clannish, historical, and very far from Corona.

Should the three-hour commute from the city fail to dissuade the rampaging, machete-wielding hordes, there will be gates to repel them.  Gates! You can lay on your cool, air-conditioned pillow and bank on it.

Somehow one gets the feeling the hordes, when they emerge, will form ranks right here.  Take away the A/C, and I can visualize the Inland Empire going full Rod Serling in about a week.   The survivors will be headed in our direction, back to the city and its Mediterranean climate, looking for the Olive Garden.

Define fragility: two million people living off one pipe and one wire.  Disrupt either for any amount of time and the outer suburbs are not merely unpleasant, they are uninhabitable.  Maslow’s Hierarchy will prevail.  Forget lost cell service. Imagine a population of luckless prospectors the size of Houston poking through dry creek beds looking for a brackish puddle in which to insert a straw. There is a reason no civilization prospered here for centuries.

Then it’s back to the city, all two million of them. Not unlike the Monday commute we experienced on the way home.  Not unlike the commute people already make twice a day, five days a week, until the mortgage is burned.

Will five-bedroom outer commute California survive a Black Swan event?   I don’t know.  It may have no choice but to make the fragility work, but at a price point reflecting risk.

You don’t know who you really are until you get there.

Paul and Stephanie, joined in consecrated union.

Valley Relics

1962 Cadillac Coup De Ville, crossing the pass in mint condition.

1960s-era garden apartment complex, Panorama. Flat roof.  No A/C. Hard to believe this got permitted, but there are many such buildings around the Valley. Back then developers could get away with a lot.

Now we have cardboard windows and teetering wall units to look at.  What did people do before this?   Swelter through the dinner hour and daydream of Cadillacs.

To Live and Die in the Arts District

My encounter with the old Pacific Electric right of way on Parthenia put me in a railway frame of mind this weekend as I was walking down by the river.

Much of the Arts District sits atop a half-submerged grid of spurs to abandoned freight lines from the industrial era.

Before they were converted to lifestyle porn or subject to historic preservation, the James Hill Pickle Works, the Packard Building, Barker Bros., Edison, Nabisco, all had quotidian purposes.  The rail lines snaked right up to the loading bays.

Then, the world east of Alameda was wholesale.  Now it’s where you sample handcrafted gin made from tangerines.

Today all you see here below is retail.  There is a ten-story parking lot in place of the switching yard.

Only a generation ago, it was a perfect backdrop for a hard-boiled action film set piece.  If you’re familiar with the area today, this chase scene is a remarkable piece of unintentional found footage around Santa Fe and Mateo Streets when it was dirty, men were sweaty and everybody smoked.

There weren’t no murals then. No rescue dogs either. We soft now. About some things. When it comes to our American Civil War, the Sequel, we are pitiless with one another.

Three Civic Oddities Outside Parthenia Street

I stumbled upon this DWP EV charging station, in the slightly-but-not-quite hoody enclave of North Hills East, mounted to a pole like a payphone, while bending down to pick up dog poop.

You just park and plug in.

Except you can’t right now because…the pump lurks below eye level, tucked demurely behind cars.  You’d never know it was there, unless….you already knew it was there, or were walking by.

But not for long. The City is going to re-designate the spaces EV only. Which would be lovely if the neighborhood, thick with apartment complexes operating at 150% of capacity, were a hotbed of Tesla ownership, which it isn’t.

The charging station is not for the locals, rather one in a network of 350 distributed around the city “so EV drivers can travel seamlessly across… service areas.”   If you’re returning to Encino in your Model S, and your battery is dying in North Hills, you’ll have a place to recharge once they repaint the curb and start ticketing the little people.

The very next pole sticking out of the ground has a sign banning overnight parking for a certain type of vehicle.

This type.  The kind which people live out of, but aren’t suppose to in Los Angeles, even though they were designed for expressly this purpose.

You can own an RV, but you can’t park it on the street. You can live in it, but only if its parked in your driveway.   You definitely can’t live in your RV on the street. But you can camp on the sidewalk indefinitely under a blue tarp or cardboard box or improvised pallet cabin, because…there is nothing to which the City of LA can affix a ticket.  You are outside the social contract, and in a small yet crucial way, free of obligations.

By carrots and sticks City Hall manipulates the transportation infrastructure, hoping to influence human behavior.   It moves the needle modestly while raising enormous sums from the public.

At the corner, we reached the graceful, sweeping curve of the Pacific Electric Red Car San Fernando line, orphaned 60 years ago.  Nothing has been done with it in that time. Not a dog park, not housing, not bike lanes, not retail.  Not even parking. People dump their old couches here.

Alternately, you could put in a trolley route, through the thickets of apartment buildings, seeing as how light rail is back in vogue. The rails are probably buried just beneath the asphalt, awaiting excavation.

If you’re keeping score at home, the civic hierarchy runs like this:
1. Tesla drivers
2. Valley landlords
3. Homeless people
4. Working class public transportation riders
5. RV people

Yerevan West

So I encountered this…in North Hollywood, 2am… sprouting majestically from a neighborhood of sad, small houses with attached single car garages…. Trippy. Transcendent. A mothership of American aspiration.

I stopped the car and let it swagger all over me.  It was an appreciation.

Two generations of people lived in the Valley and let their houses crumble over their heads.   Houses for which they paid less than $100,000.

They let water seep into the floorboards while they complained about busing. They sprayed popcorn foam over cracks on the ceiling but let the termites chew their way through the framing.  They put bars over the windows, but kept the linoleum floors.   Home improvement meant shag carpeting and flourescent tube lighting.

They left their houses to their adult children who were estranged from hand tools. They let the shrubbery die and replaced it with gravel.   But boy did they ever expect to be paid off when it came to sell, and paid off they were. In time, preposterous sums.

California was once so abundant middle class people changed houses the way we change cars today, discarding small brightly colored ranch houses on big lots for larger split-levels on small lots in the exurbs of Ventura County, painted an HOA-defined gradient running from excrement to beige.

The Valley was Adam Carolla-ville. It was one of those places you left and told disparaging anecdotes about when you got to where you were really going.

The carcasses of Los Angeles were left for the dusky hordes and the urban hipsters foolish enough to put down roots and not move to Austin. People so determined to be here they sunk their assets into houses without good  bones. Without any bones. Stucco boxes without a redeeming virtue save the ground they sank into a quarter inch a year.

Mrs. UpintheValley and I are Carcass People.   We didn’t intend to be.  We were going to to park ourselves for a few years in Van Nuys, build some equity into the house and then….trade up in an orderly fashion.  Because the world of real estate was rational, if untidy, right?  This was to be but a waystation.   A five to ten year sentence in minimum security prison, then back to one’s pals in Glamorama, with earned street cred.

Who knew housing mobility in LA would prove to be as starkly defined as the British class structure? The Wealth Effect, when combined with tight land use restrictions, means even if you pay down your mortgage in 15 years,  even if you climb to the top quintile of the income ladder, there’s nothing you can afford to buy that would be an improvement over what you already have.  Absent a windfall of cash, there’s no trading up anymore.

Marginal differences in down payment ability in 2004 proscribe where and how you can live in LA today. One is obliged to bloom where one is planted.   This was a lesson I resisted learning.

So when I see a house built out to the property line, a second floor added, and marble laid into the entryway, lit up like Halloween, I realize I have greater kinship with a family from Yerevan that I do with the kids I grew up with in California. They either inherited property, or they left. All of them.

These are my people.

The Abolitionists

Public enemy No. 1….

No, literally…and while we’re at it, no prisons, says the privileged white girl.

How dare I presume she’s privileged.  Because she’s holding a sign proclaiming innocence of the predations of man’s nature.  An indulgence only a prosperous and secure nation can engender in its people.

Open borders and jail cells are a particular fetish of single college-educated white women.  Ever wonder why….?


This is the quickening, yes?  Let us dispense with any plausible deniability as to our intentions.

In the new dispensation, abolition will not be enough. We shall pluck the wings off the American Eagle one by one. We shall inflict pain. 

How long did it take people to go there?  Two weeks? The center, such as it was, is relegated to nostalgia.

This logo has been officially merchandised by the Democratic Socialists of America. You can purchase it as a t-shirt with all profits dedicated to Righteous Causes™.

This is their It Girl, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, incumbent slayer and presumptive Congressperson from New York-14, by way of Yorktown, Westchester County.

Oh, how the media love her. Begone Stormy. We have our Joan of Arc and she’s ready to take us full Venezuela.

Free college.
Free healthcare for all.
Guaranteed income for all.
Guaranteed housing for all.
Open borders.

You can have one or several of the above but you can’t have open borders at the same time.  The last demand cancels the first four entirely. Just like you can’t have a 100% renewable energy power grid by 2035, but declare nuclear off-limits. Or plant crops in sand.

Magical thinking, plus rage, is not a sound basis for governance.

In political terms, this is driving through 18 red lights in a row with an open bottle of vodka in one hand and a fist full of opiates in the other.

By comparison, Trump looks like the most reasonable man in the room and that’s no small accomplishment.  He has been blessed in his critics. The rest of us have to live within the ruin the Resistance has wrought on civic order.

America used to work like this.  Van Nuys in its own quiet way very much still does, I’m proud to say.

Then we’re left with the eternal philosophical question.

The Curse of Ed Asner’s Housekeeper

Everything about this picture is a lie. The frame, the context, the substance. The girl was not separated from her mother. Her mother separated herself from her three other children in an attempt to regain illegal entry after being deported in 2013. Yelena was taken from her father without his permission to be used as a ticket  to cross the border.

These children are not refugees, not in custody, and not confined to a dog kennel.  This tableau is political theater, staged for a pro-immigration rally.

This photo was taken during the Obama administration.

Suddenly the Media Class are virgins.  Until last week apparently no one knew how babies were made.

We now pretend we never had a Border Patrol.  We wail as though the tangled web of immigration enforcement hasn’t been operating like this for decades.  As though the particular wrinkle of separating minors from parents (the Flores agreement) wasn’t the consequence of ACLU litigation going back to Reagan.

In Brentwood no one wants to bend over and pick up their socks, but we are obsessed with detention centers.  We are in ecstasies of sanctimony about them.

Cable TV is now nothing but people exhausting synonyms for atrocity, clicking their soundbites of outrage like castanets.   Because the world began five minutes ago. Because Trump. Behold the horror™.

This is not a war over memory. This is a war over who gets to call whom an asshole.    For there are now two American populations: The Anointed, who have a very big megaphone, and their basket of Deplorables, i.e., the Rest of US, who get to vote every couple years.

Here, in my beloved Van Nuys, peasants are locked into storage containers without plumbing until their families settle with the coyotes.   Landlords exact tribute from women for the keys to a first apartment. Shift supervisors exact tribute from women as the gateway to a first paycheck.   Brokers troll the Home Depot parking lot soliciting cash kickbacks from day laborers in exchange for a place on the truck, in scenes straight out of On The Waterfront.  I have witnessed this.

Just behind the veneer of $600,000 single-family homes are second families living on the down low in converted garages without heat or ventilation.  Tool sheds are pressed into use as casitas where laborers sleep in shifts.  People sell their wares on the sidewalk.   This is our new normal.  Into these feral arrangements the Anointed propose to deposit a fresh stream of undocumented people of unlimited number.

In Marxist terms, who benefits? The people living in campers parked on Bessemer St.?

How about people living out of dumpsters?

Or utilizing baby strollers as pushcarts for can collecting?

Or the Off-Ramp Dispossessed?

On the other hand, how about the guy who owns the bungalow with a four unit add-on?

Or the local gentry?

Trump if nothing else has proven to be the Great Clarifier. In their zeal to denounce, people have revealed themselves.   To quote the activist mob who hounded the DHS secretary out of a restaurant: “No borders! No walls! No one is legal!” Okay, then.  Now we know.

We have on our hands a reverse election. The Anointed, having deemed les deplorables insensible to reason, has determined to dissolve the public and replace it with a fresh population. One which owes them.

All the Van Nuys pictures are true. They are taken within a mile of my house.

Except this one, from Boyle Heights, ground zero of the anti-gentrification movement.  Los Angeles contains ironies within ironies. It is an animal like no other.